Sustainable Broadband Adoption -- What Works?

The Federal Communications Commission held a National Broadband Plan workshop on Wednesday to discuss, with practitioners, existing programs aimed at increasing broadband adoption and use. Relevance was the word of the day.

Greg Goldman of the Digital Impact Group summed up points he said he heard from all his fellow panelists; there seemed to be consensus that adoption programs must be:

  • Comprehensive
  • Focused on households
  • Community-based
  • Intensive (demanding time and money), and
  • Human (not overly-focused on technology)

Computers for Youth's Mark Malaspina spoke about how his organization focuses on a key motivator for all parents -- the success of their children. He suggested that the FCC build in such motivator's into the National Broadband Plan. C4Y enhances the home learning environment. It's Family Broadband engagement targets high-poverty schools, conducts family learning workshops, offers robust technical support.

Howie Hodges of One Economy said the goal is available, affordable and adopted broadband. He identified the barriers for adoption among low and moderate income:

  • Cost of hardware
  • Cost of services
  • Relevancy of content

During the Q&A, FCC staff asked how programs determine what will be relevant to participants and how they develop content. Hodges answered that the focus must be on the content that makes a difference in people's lives: health care, education, and job development.

Malaspina said C4Y also produces its own content, but learned that there is already a lot of good content out there, but it may need to be repurposed. Participants, too, were involved in both creating and vetting the content and software.

Brian David, the FCC's Adoption and Usage Director for the National Broadband Plan effort, asked what these practitioners need from the FCC and other federal policymakers. "If you can't measure success and progress, where do we spend the money?" he asked.

Thomas Kamber from the Older Adults Technology Services answered first saying his agency does do evaluation and does have data on sustained adoption and the attitudes of clients. Cricket Communications' Laurie Itkin said the FCC could work on making services more affordable for low-income people and households.

Elise Kohn, the Adoption Manager for the National Broadband Plan effort, asked how to plan for the future. Itkin suggested that the Commission not set minimum speeds to define broadband. Howie Hodges suggested that the Commission not pick particular technologies either. He asked the FCC to reform the Universal Service Fund to subsidize broadband service. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said, could require that all public housing be wired for broadband. The Department of Treasury's New Markets Tax credits could be applied for broadband equipment purchases and services.

Greg Goldman reiterated that adoption is about service that extends into the home. He made two analogies to illustrate this point: he said when you adopt a child you don't just visit it in a public place, you bring it to your home. When we wired the nation for electricity, it did not stop at public places or anchor institutions, but made it to each home.

Cricket's Itkin, who stressed that wherever broadband adoption starts, it will have to travel with users, asked the FCC to consider data roaming. She said that there needs to be regulations to ensure that there is interoperability over wireless data networks.

By Kevin Taglang.